I am thankful for Sensory Storytimes. I’m also thankful to the ALSC community for giving me the support I needed to start something new. What’s more, I’m thankful for your Sensory Storytimes. I’m thankful that library services to families with children with special needs are continuing to expand in communities across the country because of librarians like you. You are thinking outside of the box, learning, growing, and developing new programs and services to serve an underserved group of our communities. It’s no wonder that the perception of the public library is starting to change. Parents and caregivers are now looking to libraries for recreational and educational opportunities where their children with special needs can be included. Now that’s truly something to be thankful for.
For many parents and caregivers, though, the public library is not a comfortable place to visit. If we are to continue expanding services to children with disabilities, we must directly confront the perception that the public library is not a place for children with special needs. In short, we must advocate for our library to non-users. One way to do that is to talk openly about the benefits for children with special needs when they attend inclusive library programs. Not sure what to say? Here are a few talking points.
- Storytimes are open to the public: Programs like Sensory Storytime–just like all other library programs–are free, recreational opportunities that are easily accessible. Most libraries do not require advanced planning, though some require advanced registration.
- Storytimes are literacy rich environments: Sensory Storytime programs have many opportunities for talking, reading, singing, writing, and playing. This can help increase language skills, vocabulary, and syntax development. Storytimes and other library programs also foster a love of reading and support learning for all children.
- Storytimes are sensory rich environments: Programs like Sensory Storytime offer many fun and stimulating sensory experiences for children to see, touch, hear, and smell new things in their environment. Increased sensory input helps stimulate brain development, not just for children with special needs, but for all children. Sensory rich environments also help children develop imagination, think creatively, and experiment.
- Storytimes provide opportunities for practicing life skills: Life skills help children with special needs function independently. So, it’s important for children to have opportunities to practice these skills, which include listening, attending, following directions, transitioning between activities, taking turns, and sequencing. Storytime programs offer these and more!
- Storytimes provide opportunities for socialization: A wise librarian once told me that storytime is, at its heart, about connection between people. The individual connections we librarians make during storytime with children, parents and caregivers is one of the most valuable aspects of our programs. In programs like Sensory Storytime, children with special needs not only have the opportunity to connect with other children, but they practice how to work cooperatively and collaboratively with their peer group.
- Storytimes are inclusive environments: One of the main goals of a program like Sensory Storytime is to welcome families into the library who might not be included in other areas of community life. It does not matter one’s level of ability, all children are included to participate equally. Isn’t that the mission of our public libraries, after all?
If you are working at a library who has already began developing new and innovative services and programs for children with disabilities, I just want to take this moment to share my gratitude and say thanks. If your library has yet to make this as a goal, I hope this post inspires you to be fearless and try new things. I guarantee your community will be thankful.